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Old 11-07-2003, 12:01   #1
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Use a pencil

As a professional “Techie”, I often have to remind myself to focus on solutions rather than on problems.

Engineering “elegance” lies in simplicity - that is start with the “KISS” principle, and only add complexity as absolutely required.

A case in point.

When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they found that pens would’nt work at zero gravity. There was no “downhill” for ink to flow towards. In order to solve the problem, they hired Andersen Consulting (now Accenture).

Andersen took a decade, and twelve million dollars to develope a pen that worked in zero gravity, upside down, under water, and on practically any surface, and at a temperature range between below zero to over 300 degrees C.

Quite an accomplishment!

The Russians used a pencil ...

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Old 12-07-2003, 02:23   #2
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pirate Government waste

This government loves to waste tax payer's money by issuing grants for stupid little projects like pens for the techie. I just got finished manufacturing a pair of $750 doorstops for the courthouse here in Seattle.
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Old 03-10-2006, 12:40   #3
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Urban Legend

Here's how Fisher themselves described it:
NASA never asked Paul C. Fisher to produce a pen. When the astronauts began to fly, like the Russians, they used pencils, but the leads sometimes broke and became a hazard by floating in the [capsule's] atmosphere where there was no gravity. They could float into an eye or nose or cause a short in an electrical device. In addition, both the lead and the wood of the pencil could burn rapidly in the pure oxygen atmosphere. Paul Fisher realized the astronauts needed a safer and more dependable writing instrument, so in July 1965 he developed the pressurized ball pen, with its ink enclosed in a sealed, pressurized ink cartridge. Fisher sent the first samples to Dr. Robert Gilruth, Director of the Houston Space Center. The pens were all metal except for the ink, which had a flash point above 200°C. The sample Space Pens were thoroughly tested by NASA. They passed all the tests and have been used ever since on all manned space flights, American and Russian. All research and developement costs were paid by Paul Fisher. No development costs have ever been charged to the government.

Because of the fire in Apollo 1, in which three Astronauts died, NASA required a writing instrument that would not burn in a 100% oxygen atmosphere. It also had to work in the extreme conditions of outer space:
  1. In a vacuum.
  2. With no gravity.
  3. In hot temperatures of +150°C in sunlight and also in the cold shadows of space where the temperatures drop to -120°C
(NASA tested the pressurized Space Pens at -50°C, but because of the residential [sic] heat in the pen it also writes for many minutes in the cold shadows.)

Fisher spent over one million dollars in trying to perfect the ball point pen before he made his first successful pressurized pens in 1965. Samples were immediately sent to Dr. Robert Gilruth, Manager of the Houston Space Center, where they were thoroughly tested and approved for use in Space in September 1965. In December 1967 he sold 400 Fisher Space Pens to NASA for $2.95 each.

Lead pencils were used on all Mercury and Gemini space flights and all Russian space flights prior to 1968. Fisher Space Pens are more dependable than lead pencils and cannot create the hazard of a broken piece of lead floating through the gravity-less atmosphere.
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Old 03-10-2006, 12:59   #4
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Thanks Terry!

A few minutes research on the internet convinced me that your version of the story is the correct one! (or at least a LOT closer to the "Truth"!)

It might not quite make the same political point, and we have to remember that $2.95 for a pen in 1965 was very pricey, but it is in its own way a lot more interesting!

Another urban myth debunked! I wonder who it is who makes these things up?
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Old 04-10-2006, 02:28   #5
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I’ve been “Snopes-ed”: http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

Although I cannot locate any reference to Fisher’s “own telling” (“Here's how Fisher themselves described it”), as quoted by Terry Etapa, Snopes and others, it appears my original post has been thoroughly debunked.

NASA History (Steven J. Dick, NASA Chief Historian): http://history.nasa.gov/spacepen.html

Fisher Space Pen Co. (Goto “History”):
http://www.spacepen.com/

Interview with Paul C. Fisher, inventor of the Fisher Space Pen:
http://www.allwrite.nl/?incl=article...ce-pen-history
Mr. Paul C. Fisher, inventor of the Fisher SpacepenThe Fisher Space Pen was developed by Paul C. Fisher. Below is an interview with Mr. Fisher as featured on AudiologyOnline.com in which Mr. Fisher tells about how he started with the development of the Fisher Space Pen and how the Fisher Space Pen saved the Apollo 11 mission back in 1969. Did you know the Fisher Space Pen also has a flaw? No? Well keep on reading because Mr. Fisher reveals it in this interview!

<quoted excerpt>
Dr. Beck: ... and how did you start working with NASA?

Paul C. Fisher: In 1965, NASA came to us and they said they had been using pencils in space flight, and they said that pencils were too dangerous to use in space during long flights because of the debris and the scrap. NASA asked us, would you make us a pen? I said, I've been trying to make a good pen for 20 years and it cannot be done. They were not deterred….they said Mr. Fisher, you do more pen research than anyone else, and we'd like you to try again. Well, that made me think. Then about two nights later I had an interesting dream. My father had died about two years before, and in that dream, he came to me and said Paul, if you add a minute amount of rosin to the ink, that will stop the oozing. I told the chemist about that, and the chemist laughed! He said that won't work….he tried every type and quantity of rosin. Three months later he came back to me and he said I was right! He said he was trying to find a way to make rosin work, but then he realized that I meant resin! He used two percent resin, and it worked fine. Even with 140 pounds of air pressure behind it, it didn't leak. I called NASA and told them we could do it, and we developed the most valuable patent in all of the pen industry. And our pens have been used ever since in all of the manned space flights.
<end quoted excerpt>
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